On Thursday the NBA will announce whether Paul George or Gordon Hayward made the All-NBA team. This matter has an extraordinary impact on each player’s earning power.
Hayward is a free agent this summer. If he makes All-NBA, he will be eligible for a Designated Player contract from the Utah Jazz that could be much richer than what he would otherwise be eligible to receive. No other team could offer such a deal.
As such, making All-NBA would greatly improve the odds Hayward remains in Utah, even if the Jazz won’t go all the way up to a $35 million starting salary. Hayward, however, is unlikely to make All-NBA.
George is another story. He won’t be a free agent until 2018, but the Pacers would be allowed to offer a Designated Player contract in the neighborhood of $200 million for five years if George makes All-NBA. That contract would take effect for the 2018-19 season.
If George fails to make All-NBA, the Pacers would be able to offer little more than other teams in 2018. As such, it is widely believed that if George does not make All-NBA or otherwise declines to extend his contract this summer, the Pacers will pursue trading him to avoid losing him in free agency.
Much has been made of the All-NBA issue because members of the media vote on who makes All-NBA. As such, 100 people who cover the NBA day to day will essentially determine whether the Pacers keep Paul George or trade him.
These media voters will also help determine how much money Hayward makes. Their votes will change the course of multiple franchises, probably every season. (Last year, All-NBA votes — or the lack thereof — cost Anthony Davis millions of dollars.)
Understandably, many media voters bristle at being granted this power. Some refuse to vote. Some outlets refuse to allow their writers to participate.
That is all fine. No member of the media should feel obliged to participate at this granular level. Everyone’s boundaries are slightly different and this paradigm crosses the line of what some would find acceptable.
But in the broader sense, this is the only way it can work under the current salary cap system.
If the NBA wants to allow some maximum contract players to make more than other maximum contract players, there must be a mechanism to differentiate those players.
The league’s criteria make a lot of sense on the surface: All-NBA honors the top 15 players (adjusted for position) any given year. Other qualifications for the Designated Player contract are the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. These also seem appropriate. If you want graduated maximum contracts, these are the right honors with which to designate the very best in the league.
Who should vote for these awards? Team officials like general managers or coaches can’t do it. The opportunity for malfeasance and scandal is too great. The players can’t do it. We all saw the All-Star vote debacle. The fans can’t do it. We all saw the All-Star vote debacle. So it is left to the media. There’s really no other feasible option.
Well, there’s no other option ... with the current NBA salary rules in place.
There is a dead simple way to ensure that there is a mechanism for differentiation among the most highly paid players in the NBA and that’s to abolish the individual max contract.
If there were no individual max, there’d be no need for the Designated Player contract. Instead, teams could offer players whatever they felt those players were worth.
Teams don’t like that idea because cost controls on individual players mitigate risk, allow more flexibility, and reduce luxury tax bills. Players haven’t fought to remove the individual cap because the existence of the individual cap allows the massive NBA middle class to thrive. (Every dollar not paid to LeBron is a dollar that goes to a lesser player.)
So long as we have an individual max and a desire to allow teams to have a financial advantage in keeping their players, we’re going to have convoluted systems to differentiate maximum contracts. The current system — with media members deciding collectively who gets the millions of dollars in cash at stake — is the best solution for an avoidable problem.
And they hold the fate of two star players in their hands.